The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is currently undertaking a review of Irish foreign policy and has welcomed submissions from the public, including civil society. Business and human rights has featured prominently in several of these submissions and gives an indication of the importance of this issue in the context of foreign affairs. This post provides a short summary of some of the key points made in the various submissions.
Dóchas, the Association of Irish Non-Governmental Development Organisations made some valuable observations in its submission on the need for policy coherence in this context:
In the area of trade, for instance, this should mean Irish companies and individuals (and the State supporting them) adhering to international law and human rights conventions, norms and standards, and best practice international standards for business as a matter of course, but also to EU and Irish commitments, including to policy coherence for development.
The foreign policy review should result in Ireland establishing a timeline for the development of the National Action Plan to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This plan should include requirements for human rights due diligence by business entities in circumstances where it is deemed appropriate, including many developing country contexts.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions similarly addressed the Irish Government’s failures regarding the United Nations Guiding Principles:
Ireland has not adequately addressed its responsibilities outlined in the United Nations Framework and Guiding Principles on business and human rights. The framework emphasises a State’s duty to protect human rights, a corporate responsibility to respect human rights and the need to provide remedies where violations by business entities occur. The Government has yet to issue a comprehensive policy document on business and human rights and should immediately initiate such a process.
Congress also proposed much-needed improvements to the National Contact Point system under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, while also urging the Government to live up to its commitments regarding collective bargaining.
In its Public Consultation Document, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not make any reference to business and human rights. It refers to Irish embassies responding to “the needs of business”, and considers that “the promotion of trade, tourism and investment are essential functions of our foreign relations”. The promotion of human rights is, however, a “core element” of Irish foreign policy. And as Trócaire observed in its submission, “the foreign policy review needs to recognise the intrinsic links between these two areas through developing a human rights approach to our trade promotion work”. Trócaire also noted that the Irish Government has yet to develop a national action plan for the United Nations Guiding Principles on business and human rights. This UN initiative was also referenced in the submissions of Christian Aid Ireland, Gorta and Self Help Africa, and the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
The Galway Platform on Human Rights in Irish Foreign Policy identified business and human rights as a cross-cutting area that could be considered as a priority area for the Irish Government. Readers will recall the recent debacle concerning Ireland’s trade mission to the Gulf, and following which Minister Bruton rebuked those who suggested human rights issues should have been addressed in the context of trade. Clearly much work needs to be done to ensure that human rights remains at the heart of all aspects of Irish foreign policy, including the promotion of business and trade. The ongoing Irish foreign policy review provides an opportunity to do just that.